Henry McCall sauntered down the street, calm, confident, ready for anything. People looked away, unwilling to meet his gaze. He rested his right hand on the hilt of his revolver, a Webley. In his gambler's clothes, dark pinstripe trousers and vest offset by a teal cravat, with a bowler hat on his head and a walking stick in his left hand, he presented the epitome of a British gentleman. Even his dark-blonde mustache, curled with wax, seemed elegant and refined.
The main street of Gholson, Texas, with businesses and homes lining it, blew with early July's dust. The morning breeze, already warm, stirred tumbleweeds along and a string of cattle headed along the road toward the rail line in Waco. Three cowboys chivied the beasts and Hank gave them the gimlet eye.
His reputation among these folk, earned when he shot a man who called him a cheat at cards, kept trouble at bay. The aging marshal and his one cowardly deputy dared not lift a hand against the English remittance man or his pair of companions. Both his friends were hard men and positioned well for the fight scheduled to happen today. But the cows were a complication. Walking in the street, he might slip on cow dung, but facing someone, he needed to be alert to them, not his footing.
He glanced up behind the signboard of Mitchel's Hardware Emporium. He spotted Earl's rifle, waiting to back-shoot the foolish young ranger who would be walking down the street any moment to arrest him. Then he made sure Sam Green stood in the shade beside the post office. Sam spat, the stream of tobacco striking the street's dust with an inaudible splat. It was the agreed sign he was ready to lend a hand should the boy show.
The line of cows continued on toward their appointment with the butcher, the dust of their passing obscuring the street. Henry smiled as a young woman, unable to cross the street, passed along the wooden walk within arm's reach. He tipped his hat. "A delight to see you this morning."
She ducked her head and gripped her basket tight, but offered no word. Henry turned and eyed her retreating backside, enjoying the thought he might inconvenience her after he disposed of the only man willing to stand up to him. Dust from the passing herd wafted into his face and he pulled out a kerchief to ward it off, breathing through the fine silk.
They had agreed on nine o'clock, yet the boy was nowhere to be seen. He pulled out his pocket watch to check the time. Ten minutes to go. Ten minutes until their date with destiny. He noted the man from the press, accompanied by a photographer with a new model Eastman camera. They would capture the moment for history. After, he would travel East and write books, telling of his adventures in the savage frontier. Fame and fortune, particularly fortune, would be his. The boy would die and his status as a Texas ranger would ensure Henry's reputation.
The rifle barrel waggled back and forth, then slipped down behind the sign. Henry sighed. Just like Earl to complicate things with some folderol. At least he was alert, not drunk or asleep. The entire thing hinged on having Earl shoot the boy just as they reached for their guns. Henry would follow with five more fast rounds and none would be the wiser. But the dust complicated things more than the risk of dung. It would make photography indistinct.
How long did it take to drive a herd down the street? Henry checked his pocket-watch again. Three minutes left. There, the last drover. They could still make their date with destiny.
Finally, the last rider made it past. Henry walked to the middle of the street and waited. The dust slowly settled and a tall lean man, the sort a local might call a long drink of water, strode up.
Mike Carson watched the street with special care. He marked where all the cow patties lay, along with the rifleman posted behind the big sign. If he walked forward, the bushwhacker would be behind him. He tossed a small pebble up at the heel of Whiskey Earl's boot. Earl, startled, looked over the edge of the sign. Mike tipped his hat back and smiled up at him. Earl knew Mike, who had arrested him six years earlier. Earl had only emerged from Huntsville prison six months ago, just in time to join in with the Englishman. Never a brave man, Earl felt his legs give out.
Henry weighed the stranger's dusty garb- a dull tan hat the locals called sugar-loaf, dark leather vest, riding boots, and a revolver on his hip. Nothing to worry about, the gear any poor laborer would wear, much like what the boy had when Henry issued the formal challenge for the affront to his honor. The blurred form halted fifty feet distant, farther than Henry could reliably make a shot. He cursed the dust, then decide to mock the youth. "Afraid to come face me? Needs must or you prove not a man."
Finally, he started, just as a fresh breeze scattered the billowing dust. Henry looked down, saw clear space, and took two steps forward. In the shade of the post office, Sam spat again and hitched up his gun-belt. Henry glanced to see when Earl would rise up, ready to back his play, as the locals called it.
"Lookin' fer your friend, Englishman?" the approaching ranger called. "Seems Earl decided he didn't hanker to bein' shot today."
"Who the deuce are you? I arranged to meet a ranger today, not a nameless cowhand."
"Why don't you ask Sure-shot Sam Atwell, man as is most like to hit what he ain't aiming fer." Mike smiled as he got close enough to see the other backup man. "I happen to be a ranger. Badge and all."
"Pray tell, why then do you not wear it."
"You shore do tok pretty." Mike's hand hovered over the butt of his pistol, not quite touching it. "You come along peaceable like and you can get out in five, mebbe ten year. Go fer your gun and your pappy won't need to send no more money never."
"What sort of uneducated-" Henry began, only to be interrupted by Sam.
"Damnation, that's Mike Carson," Sam yelped.
"A man falsely accused me of villainy and I challenged him to a matter of honor." Henry needed to figure this new situation. He knew how to calculate odds, but this was unexpected. The ranger stepped closer as he hesitated. Barely fifteen feet separated them now. "I expect to meet him or have the ludicrous accusation withdrawn."
"I'm accusin' you of aimin' to bushwhack one o' my men." Mike continued his slow advance. Sam fled, his spurs jangling as he ran like a scared jackrabbit.
"I had no such plans." Mike was barely ten feet away and still closing. Henry was peripherally aware of the newsman taking repeated photographs, the new film roll able to get a picture without needing a flash. If he could get the drop on this man, he would still come out ahead. Perhaps more, given his companion's reactions. He needed time. "If I might have a moment."
"I'm arrestin' you fer the death o' Cole Hartman." Mike stood within arm's reach of Henry. Mike's eyes never wavered, and Henry saw death staring him in the face.
"It was a fair fight."
"Tell 'er to the judge." Mike's hand flashed forward and took the Webley from Henry's holster. "Now git down to the jail."
"Mister Carson, what just happened here? Why didn't you shoot him? What happened to the fight which was supposed to take place?"
"I arrested a man. That's all."
"But the fight?"
"Texas pays me to keep the peace. That's what I done."
The next morning, the news read, "Mike Carson, famed Texas Ranger, faced down three men yesterday. Despite the deck stacked against him, he still won the draw."
Eastman patented roll film in 1881.
The Webley Revolver entered service in 1887.
Gholson Texas was known as Sardis until 1887 when the name officially changed.